This year’s 100th anniversary celebration for the Town of Leaside (actually, no longer a town but part of the City of Toronto) is a reminder of how new Toronto is, as a city. I know people who are almost 100 years of age—it means that many original Leasiders are still around to tell us what it was like. The really interesting facts are in the stories people can tell us about a small neighbourhood in Toronto that to this day, refuses to believe it’s still not its own village!
First of all, consider when the town was first incorporated in April 1913; there were a total of 43 residents in the area, spread about on five farms. The “main street” was Laird Drive because it led to the only employment in town, the railway yards and within a few years, Canada Cable and Wire. That’s a bit of a shock when you consider most people today think of Bayview Avenue as the main street and Laird a messy, industrial street they’d rather ignore. Laird Drive is becoming more attractive these days but convincing anyone that it’s close to the status of Bayview is going to take some work.
Stories of a small town
But it’s the quaintness of people’s lives, only a generation or two before us, that is most fascinating. Even by the 1930’s, most of the roads in the community were dirt; it even took until 1945 before one man riding around on a bike was replaced by 5 official policeman. One resident explained to me how during the Depression, his father decided to raise budgies in his Leaside home. Birds at the time were considered more responsible pet than cats or dogs, so it seemed a sensible source of income. His venture meant that within a few years he’d amassed approximately 500 budgies in his basement on McRae Drive; the same birds he had to carry by hand—one by one—when his family moved to a house directly behind them on Crandall.
Another proud Leasider showed me a photo of her and her sister sitting on a pony on her front lawn on Hanna Drive. It was taken by an opportunistic salesman going door-to-door selling “photo ops” to local families (apparently he did the same in the Beaches!) I can only imagine what might happen today if someone showed up today with a small horse in any neighbourhood in Toronto, let alone Leaside. My friend also was born in that very house, in an upstairs bedroom. Funny, we think that “home births” today are so trendy!
And then there are stories of beloved school teachers, one in particular who rewarded a student by taking him up in his two-seater airplane and doing “rolls” to give him a thrill. Other teachers volunteered at the local park after school to supervise activities for kids playing outdoors. Why in Leaside, even the local policemen knew kids by name (and reminded the girls when it was past their curfew.)
The Town of Leaside lives on
On January 1, 1967 Leaside was amalgamated with the township of East York, a community just east of the Don Valley. Although this meant that the town now became a neighbourhood within East York, many never really accepted that Leaside was actually part of East York.
The celebrations this year of Leaside 100 are a reminder that you can remove Leaside from the postal address, you can even change the street signs, but you can’t make certain “towns” disappear from the City of Toronto. Happy Leaside 100th to all!